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Wolves den on lambing ground



FARSON -- Members of the Thoman Ranch family, with headquarters just below Fontenelle Dam north of Kemmerer, know what it's like to have large, federally protected predators preying on their domestic sheep flocks.

The Thoman sheep are trucked to the Upper Green River region in July and graze the mountains through September before moving back to lower elevation rangelands for the remainder of the year. The Thomans have had both grizzly bears and gray wolves kill their sheep while on the Bridger-Teton National Forest grazing allotments in recent years.

This time, it appears the wolves are coming out to meet the flocks, months ahead of any anticipated confrontation.

A pair of wolves is expected to begin denning in the middle of a domestic sheep lambing ground northeast of Farson any day now, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. There are three migratory sheep outfits that use the area for lambing, which begins in early May in western Wyoming.

Dick Thoman said Tuesday his family is slated to move two bands of sheep into the area next week for lambing. The notion of a pair of wolves feeding pups in a den amid the sheep begs the question of what food source the adult wolves will use. Thoman is confident of the answer: his sheep.

"If sheep are in the area, sheep are food, and they are going to eat them," Thoman said. "It's not if, it's when. It's a given they are going to eat some sheep."

Federal officials reported that a USDA Wildlife Services field specialist saw a pair of wolves feeding on a moose calf kill in the area last week.

"The female was very pregnant and expecting to den any day," Fish and Wildlife reported in its weekly wolf update. "The area is in the middle of a sheep lambing area and the local producers were contacted about the situation."

Mike Jimenez of Fish and Wildlife said in an interview Tuesday that Wildlife Services has been authorized to trap and radio-collar wolves on site so the pair can be monitored.

"It's not in the mountains, it's on the flatlands," Jimenez said. "And there's a lot of sheep."

Fish and Wildlife has no plans to move the wolves, despite their presence amid a lambing ground.

"We don't move things proactively," Jimenez said.

Jimenez said the wolves have not yet caused a problem with the domestic sheep.

Two of the three sheep producers in the region said they had not been contacted about wolves denning in the area.

Thoman said he had not been contacted about the wolves as of Tuesday. Fellow sheepman Pete Arambel, who will trail his domestic herds into the region the first week of May, confirmed that he hadn't been contacted about the situation either.

The third domestic sheep producer using the area is Wyoming Stock Growers Association executive Jim Magagna. He said he had received a message from Jimenez, but had not yet returned the call Tuesday afternoon. His flocks will also enter the area within the next week to 10 days, he said.

"I think we're all at risk," Magagna said.

Magagna questioned why Fish and Wildlife would wait until the wolves had pups and the "almost inevitable conflict" with sheep would occur before taking action. He suggested that because efforts were being made to trap the wolves, the wolves should be captured and moved to another location "where the wolves and their pups would have a better chance of not causing a conflict."

All three sheep producers use livestock guardian dogs and have herders with the flocks around the clock, but even with these precautions, wolves often succeed in killing domestic sheep.

This is the southernmost pair of wolves known to Fish and Wildlife in Wyoming at this time.






Page Updated: Thursday May 07, 2009 09:15 AM  Pacific

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